The comforting touch of a parent or caregiver teaches empathy by example.
When your child sees you crying or upset, does she try to make you feel better? Does she try to comfort and upset friend? That’s empathy. Even very young children can identify distress and many will try to relieve the sadness of a friend of family member. If your home provides a loving and compassionate environment, you may not have to do much to foster empathy in your child because she will learn it by watching you. By your own empathic behavior, you can show your child what empathy is by example, which will encourage her own empathic behavior.
1 Sit with your child and look at face pictures. Ask your child what the person might be feeling. He may quickly pick out some expressions such as happy, sad or angry. Other expressions may confuse him. You might ask him how he would look if he were sad or worried and then show him his face in a mirror. Encourage him to make up a story about why the person might feel unhappy or sad and what he could do to make that person feel better.
2 Read or make up stories about people and ask your child what the characters are feeling. You could ask her why the characters feel the way they do and what could change their feelings. This invites her to think about how her actions influence the feelings of her friends or family members. If your child sees a classmate or sibling crying, she can then think about how to respond with compassion and empathy.
3 Encourage your child to notice how people are different and how that might affect their feelings. For example, you might ask how he would feel if he couldn’t walk or run with his friends or how he would feel if he couldn’t understand what everyone was saying when they talked to him. Let him explore how he would want others to treat him in those situations. This can help him decide how to respond to people in similar situations.
4 Invite your child to model empathy with a doll or toy. She could pretend her friend is crying or angry. Let her talk her way through the interaction before you offer suggestions. Alternatively, you could pretend to be sad, scared or hurt and let her decide how she would respond. Role-playing helps her decide how she wants to respond when a similar opportunity occurs. Encourage her to trust her feelings. Praise her desire to show compassion.
- Remind your child to be wary of strangers who try to play on his feelings of empathy. Stress the need to limit close responses to a child in his class or home or to allow an adult to respond to the needs of a stranger.
Things You'll Need
- Face pictures
- Doll or toy